A Bit of Madness
Published in

A Bit of Madness

Colorado Tears, The Sequel

Chapter One: Collision in Willow Draw

Two emergency responders lifting stretcher into rescue vehicle
Emergency Responders by Pagosa Springs EMS

The middle finger of Josie’s left hand twitched and pulled a furrow in the dirt. Tiny tan puffs curled away, mini dust devils that collapsed and settled back to earth. Moments later Josie’s left eye cracked open but only a tawny, powdery dirt hillside with hunks of broken sandstone and bare oak brush branches came into a hazy view. Her favorite baseball cap lay inverted and folded up against a rock. Like a high centered turtle. CSU. Equine Science, in green. Out of reach. Fading. Dusk, maybe? Josie tried to sit up but she felt like she was back on the Gravitron at the carnival that had left town last July. She wanted to wretch, but she shuddered and moaned, inhaling a waft of crushed sage.

I’ll die if I vomit, she thought. She curled to the left when her brain acknowledged a pointed ache from a rock under her lower spine. Her right arm wouldn’t respond to her attempts to sit up and pain sliced upward from her right shin. Her right eye didn’t register any light. It was swollen shut, but she didn’t know that.

“Myyy. Ohhhh. Uuuum.” Josie mumbled noises, but they didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense. Blood dripped across her forehead, running over her right eye, down around her nose. She could taste it, the copper tang. She tried to moisten her lips with her tongue but ended up with grit in her mouth, and her feeble attempt to spit just added gritty drool to the blood and mud pie beneath her cheek. She closed her left eye.

She woke up again, to black skies above the dark forest trail, cold to the bone, in pain that alternated between stabbing up her right leg, throbbing above her eyes, and aching at her right shoulder. She could move her right arm inches at a time. She could barely focus on overhead stars. What? Where? And when? Slowly, she raised herself with her left arm until she was hunched over, listing to the right. Her watch crystal was crushed into a spiderweb. And finally, she could think. And remember.

“Damn. Damn it.”

The cracking report of a big rifle off to the west. A huge bull elk crashing through the brush on the bluff overlooking the dirt path while her gelding, Woody, freezing spraddle legged, and the impact of the elk knocking them both into the oak brush on the far side of the trail where the hulk of a moss rock boulder the size of a Volkswagen blocked their descent down a slope.

Woody was nowhere in sight now and Josie didn’t see a bloody mark or hide on the boulder when she tried to turn to look around in slow motion. But then, she couldn’t see much. Josie had been riding, and no she wasn’t wearing a helmet, but she did have on her canvas vest and leather chinks. No coat. Her water, her phone, and her standard emergency supplies were in the horn bag on the saddle, instead of in her fanny pack, another stupid move. Gone with Woody. She had a pocket knife in her jeans. Josie had listened to the lectures at Back Country Horseman, stories of survival, stories of loss.

She knew better. No one would be waiting for her at home except for her dog. She never left the dog when she was out riding, but Vel had sliced a toe from a trip down by the river and she’d bandaged it and left him pouting at home. She wasn’t due at work until Monday morning. Was that tomorrow? Moonlight just edged over the divide to the east and shadows reached toward her like skeletal monsters. She inched herself down onto her back one more time, wiped her right eye with the left sleeve of her flannel shirt, and considered her only option. She moaned and then she started.

Josie used her left leg and arm to drag herself further off the trail until she could reach the nearest oak brush. She used her knife to whittle off a branch, slowly, hesitantly and used her belt to fashion a splint for her lower right leg. She didn’t want to contemplate what was likely a fracture but at least it wasn’t compound. She ripped off a strip of her shirt — her favorite riding shirt — to support the splint further down. She tied it tight. Everything faltering, accented with “uhhh,” a grunt, a gasp. Then a second stick to use as a pole. She tried to stand. She fell and screamed. Limping wasn’t going to happen.

“I’m tough, but I’m not that tough,” Josie muttered through clenched teeth when her panting eased. The tears were streaming down her face. She tried not to make wounded animal mewlings but it was hard.

She found that she could crab walk slowly, traveling a few feet at a time, by pushing with her left leg, scooting on her butt, supporting herself half sideways with her left arm, before she’d collapse, whimpering and crying, and even more determined to get out of this, find her horse, and take care of herself. She had to.

“uuuhh, huuu, uuuh.” Breathe in. Breathe out. Three feet more. “No. No. Nooooo.” Two feet more, leaving tracks of handprints and heel drags in the trail, plumes of dust powdering her left hand and wrist, her jean leg below her chinks on one side like half a fuzzy tan ghost.

“Shut up,” Josie told herself. “Just shut up.” She kept going, foot by foot, minute by minute, an hour of scoot and drag before collapsing, resting, crying, then another hour. The moon shadows left her. She had to feel her way along the dirt path, cringing when she hit rocks and sharp oak stubs at the edge of the trail. Until the sky began to grey in the east, and she dragged herself to the last rise above the creek near the forest service bar to the Willow Draw trailhead on Mill Creek Road. And stopped again.

Above her, caws discussed her progress. A murder of crows, some synapse in Josie’s mind recalled. She wiped at her left eye, tried to open both, closed them, and lost herself to the pain, shivering in the morning chill.

“Don’t move,” the voice said. “I called 911. They’ll get you out of here soon. Just don’t move.”

Josie opened her left eye, startled, and looked up at the man staring at her bound-up leg.

“My horse,” She started to whisper. The man jerked his eyes to her face. He stared at the dried rivers of blood across cheeks covered with dirt, twigs, and the path of tears.

“What? Oh. I was hiking. My dog found you. I…”

“Thanks,” Josie said with a little more air behind it. She tried to form words, speaking slowly, feeling her voice muddled. Her tongue felt dry and thick. “I’m Josie. Tate. I live … a mile …towards town. My horse? A red roan? Saddle? Loose?” She jerked out the words.

“No. No horses. Is that what happened? Your horse bucked you off? “

“No. More…. complicated. Riding… elk… he’s gone.” Her voice kept fading, halting.

“You were riding in the dark? Out here? Alone?”

“No. I…” Josie paused, trying to think. “Yesterday.” Josie didn’t know this guy. She thought she knew pretty much everyone in town. Being a veterinarian was a great way to meet the people in a small town. And she’d been here almost a year. But she’d never seen this guy before. Backpack. Camera. And then she didn’t care. He was looking a little green.

The distant sing-song wail of the emergency response vehicle broke through her fog. She lifted her head and her vision swirled. She sank back down and vomited bile, lurching to the right only to feel the wet on her chin and neck. “Awwwww,” she started to scream as her right arm collapsed and her right leg twisted. She passed out. Again.

Colorado Tears is the sequel to Colorado Blood, published in 2017. The fans have spoken and Josie and I were listening. My plan is to submit a chapter once or twice a week, get as many reviews and comments as possible, and put them all together at the end, wherever and whenever that may be. Thanks in advance to readers and contributors.

The link to Colorado Blood:

https://www.amazon.com/Colorado-Blood-Patty-Latham-ebook/dp/B06XSSVFBQ

For those wanting the back story, a summary of Colorado Blood:

Colorado Blood, a novel by Patty Latham, DVM

Dr. Josie Tate, newly divorced, needs to escape the personal and professional pressures of Colorado’s Front Range. Seeking a more tranquil environment to heal and to practice her skills, the rookie veterinarian moves to the rural mountain town of Pagosa Springs.

Pagosa Springs offers Josie everything she wants: the mentorship of a more experienced vet, natural beauty, and a chance to spend time with her much-loved dog and horses. She’s thrilled to discover the varied nature of veterinary work in the mountains, from delivering foals to removing porcupine quills from the faces of overly inquisitive dogs.

A call from a sheriff’s deputy sends Josie out to a ranch, where she finds an injured, neglected horse. Initially outraged at the animal’s condition, Josie relaxes when the horse’s owner, Joe Brinkman, explains the circumstances behind the animal’s condition.

After the initial conflict, Josie forms a friendship with Joe, a widowed professor from Denver with a young daughter. The two explore and camp the high mountain trails surrounding Pagosa Springs.

With her bruised psyche healing and her veterinary career on track, Josie may be ready for a new romance. But when Joe makes an unexpected announcement, Josie must make a life-defining choice.

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Fantasy, Fiction, and Horror, among other things.

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Patty Latham

Patty Latham

Veterinarian CSU 1975. Mom. Rider of mustangs. Author of Napa Valley Vets, novel Colorado Blood, and over 20 case reports and features for EQUUS and on line..

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